I had wanted to move to D.C. since the day I declared my major in undergrad and sat in my first international relations class. I knew there were rooms where these big decisions were happening, and I couldn’t help but feel myself being pulled towards them. I had something I wanted to prove: the plucky girl studying in Peoria could, in fact, make her way to the room where it all was happening and make a difference.
I tried staying in Chicago for a year post-graduation — but not even Chicago. I stayed in the burbs, in my cozy, childhood home, with my parents, dog, and boyfriend all close by. Every day I felt this pit start to grow larger and more pressing in my stomach. I loved being home. I had the rare opportunity to rebuild a relationship with my parents, continue my 4-year relationship with my college boyfriend, and of course, live rent free. But no matter how comfortable I was, it all felt off. It seemed like the longer I sat at home watching House Hunters while scrolling on social media, I felt myself starting to disappear. I knew I was losing myself. But I sat by, kept scrolling, and let it happen.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my job at the time, because I did. Campaigning was this untamable beast that I felt challenged and invigorated by. However, it didn’t matter that I liked my work or loved the professionals around me. I realized there was something wrong with crying in your car once a week after work. I also realized that it wasn’t the work that was making me cry — it was myself.
My biggest red flag came from my relationship. I loved my boyfriend, and he was my absolute best friend. But even though I loved him, I found that I started to feel a hole in my heart. The hole wasn’t from him — but it also couldn’t be filled by him. I had started losing my grip on who I was, and I was watching him ride the same exact wave with himself. We knew we were starting to trudge through our own mud pits of our personalities and self-exploration. But the more we felt ourselves getting deeper in our own pits, the more we reached for the other, realizing that we couldn’t help the other. Reaching to help someone else when you’re sinking yourself only makes you sink faster.
After the March 2018 Illinois primary ended, I realized there was a huge choice I had to make. A choice that honestly, people make every damn day, so why was I making such a big deal out of it? Would I move across the country and live in D.C.? Or would I stay in Chicago and continue on the life I’d started to wear out?
My gut started to kick in and push me along this secret path only it knew. I decided to move. I packed up my dad’s truck with a twin mattress and several Rubbermaid drawer sets and headed to Washington. I was leaving the great support system I’d found in my parents, and I was leaving my best friend and love, but more than anything, I was intent on leaving this ghost I’d been carrying around.
Being here in D.C. for 7 months has been hard for me, not even because the first place I lived in closely resembled a large closet. More than anything, right now my heart regularly feels like it’s been scraped out. I miss my friends who now all live in trendy Chicago neighborhoods and have started to discover their adult selves together. I feel guilty that I finally found a great relationship with my parents and then left. I call my 90-year-old grandpa once a week and feel like I should be doing more to make our time together worth something. My little cousins are growing through the hell of high school, and I’m so far away. The list builds and builds, but maybe the hardest part has been that I feel completely empty that I left my first love and I have to now realize what it means to have an ex. And god, I miss my damn dog.
But since I’ve been here, I’ve had to sit down and really look at myself for the first time in my entire life. I’ve realized that the shadow following me around has grown larger and more daunting. It’s the shadow of an anxious girl who could barely squeeze out a hello, the body dysmorphic woman who couldn’t look at herself in the mirror, the person who wanted to love everyone but had trouble loving herself, the girl with a lot of opinions but was too afraid of confrontation to speak them. People go places in hopes that they’ll find themselves. But I’ve realized it’s not the place that makes you find yourself; it’s the time you spend alone.
Every day, I wake up alone. There are no distractions anymore — no dog, no boyfriend, no parents. In my alone time, I’m forced to look at my shadow and confront it. Every day, I ask it if it will wash over me, or if I can have one minute of my own. The shadow has started to give me what I’ve asked for — a minute turned into two, two minutes turned into hours.
At first, it seemed so easy to fill my alone time by being around other people. After all, I just started to get to know my D.C. network, and I was working hard at growing it. No matter how much energy I put into socializing, I knew this was a band-aid — one can’t come to love who they are alone by never actually being alone. Knowing this, I began reaching into the back drawers of my heart and pulling out some old dreams. I wrote down a list of what I’d love to be doing, and I started immediately checking things off.
I discovered improv comedy after I’d seen friends do Second City classes in Chicago. I marveled at them. I was determined to find the same confidence and silliness they had all found, so I signed up for an improv class right after moving to D.C. I also started to raise my hand for any projects I could at work, and I committed myself to fall in love with running again. Running used to be where I reconnected with myself, the only time that I was happily alone in my own head. I took the opportunity to explore my brand new city with my running shoes on. I was reading way more, too. Books started to fly off the bookshelf and onto my nightstand.
Now, a few months later, I find myself deep in my work, loving what I get to do. I step out of myself at improv, wondering where this funny voice inside me came from. I feel my legs carry me over new running trails, and I can’t help but let my lungs breathe out an open hallelujah. I look around at all the people around me, doing amazing work, and I feel so much pride in even knowing them.
I miss home. I miss the Midwest. I miss my loved ones. I will be back sooner rather than later. For now, though, I missed myself, and for the first time, I’m so happy I’m starting to meet her.
Jessica Lach is just trying to make the world a better place, but with a lot of anxiety and poor jokes along the way. Originally from Chicagoland and now living in Washington, DC, she can be found scanning the morning Politico Playbook, improvin’ around town, running outside, or ogling at the National Parks’ official Instagram (quality content alert). She also loves her Chicago based dog Toby and uses her voice for change whenever possible.
Image via Unsplash